Tag Archives: Survival

Equipment & Gear: KA-BAR’s Full-size Fighting Knife

KA-BAR (usually pronounced kay-bar) has a long history of use in the United States and became famous for being a dependable and choice pick for American soldiers during the Second World War. The brand name Ka-Bar also has an interesting origin and the fighting knives carrying this branding are known for being manufactured by Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, USA.

Full-size Ka-Bar Fighting Knife (Black, Tanto) model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 4-1259CP-2
Blade Color Black (with black blade)
Product Dimensions 12.81 x 3 x 1.125 inches (8″ blade; 0.165″ thickness)
Item Weight 317 grams (11.2 ounces)
Metal Type 1095 Cro-Van (USA manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade and grip made in USA.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.

Fighting Knife Sizes & Blade Lengths: The Full-size Fighting Knife is the penultimate, classic knife used by the United States Marine Corps and many other individuals that need the reliability and utility of a large knife. A perfect combination of light and strong, Ka-Bar’s full-size and short Fighting Knife styles embody the best utilities a knife can offer.

Made in the United States from 1095 Cro-Van steel like some of the other knives that Ka-Bar makes, including the Short Fighting Knife (reviewed here). These fighting knives have great durability and are easy to keep sharp. The full-size and Short Fighting Knife are both tempered to the same hardness rating of 56-58.

Ka-Bar’s Fighting Knife has an 8 inch (20 cm) blade length, longer even than the Swedish Fallkniven A1 survival knife. And with a larger handle than what is necessary for casual use. But this knife isn’t for casual use, it’s for getting you out of scrapes that you didn’t plan on, but did prepare for. To that end there’s nothing wrong with the size of the handle, but prospective buyers should definitely consider the added space it takes up compared to other knives.

The basic version of the Fighting Knife doesn’t directly compare with any of Fallkniven’s offerings due to the type of steel used in the blade and the price. But Ka-Bar does offer an “Extreme Fighting Knife” made from D2 semi-steel which is used in industrial tools and is even tougher than the best stainless steels without the expense of VG-10 high-carbon steel used in Fallkniven knives. With all the same specifications as the regular Fighting Knife the “Extreme” retails for around $180, but a savvy buyer can pick it up for $110. Meanwhile the Fallkniven A1 retails for around $350 in the U.S. but can be had much cheaper. Either version of the Fighting Knife offers excellent features and dependability for virtually any situation and at a very competitive price point.

Top: Short KA-BAR with sheath; Bottom: Full-size KA-BAR Fighting Knife with glass-filled nylon sheath.

Sheath & Portability: Both knives featured in the photo above came with a hard sheath made from sturdy, glass-filled nylon. This sheath is light-weight and rigid, making it the ideal way to transport the knife and keep it on your belt or in your bug-out-bag. A nylon belt runs vertically to allow the sheath to be attached to a belt or to be looped to another piece of nylon or MOLLE attachment system. The body of the sheath also has a number of slits and reinforced holes to tie the sheath down in an ad-hoc fashion or for securing on the leg.

The underside of the sheath is flat, except for where it comes up to protect the hand guard. This backing also serves as a clip that secures the knife’s guard in place and thus keeps the knife locked tightly in the sheath. To pull the knife out of the sheath one only needs to use a thumb to push on the sheath’s backing and then slip out the knife.

Fighting Knife sheathed and secured.
Fighting Knife sheathed and secured, one nylon belt shown. The button shows some wear.

The hard sheath is a great design that doesn’t require any additional locks or points of failure that might break in the field. However the sheath does come equipped with two nylon belts that each have buttons that will further secure the knife in its sheath. This keeps the knife hilt and handle from flexing away from the backing of the sheath, and might help in rare situations where the guard could accidentally be pushed from the sheath’s clip.

The sheath’s underside is otherwise smooth for easy storing and to reduce the likelihood of getting it caught on apparel with pockets. The sheath even has a small opening to allow water to drip out while reducing the likelihood of dirt and debris getting in while the sheath is strapped to your side or attached to a MOLLE-compatible holder.

Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.

Although most versions of the Fighting Knife have options to come with a traditional leather sheath or the hard sheath, the Tanto models appear to still only come with the hard sheath. Ultimately which one is best for you will vary by personal preference. The glass-filled nylon hard sheath can come with the clip-style knives or be purchased separately. The Extreme Fighting Knife also has a version that comes with a nylon-and-velcro sheath, similar to what comes with multi-tools and similar gear.

One advantage of the hard sheath is the two ambidextrous straps to hold the knife secure. I really appreciate the functionality of the nylon straps and button clips on the Ka-Bar which do a perfect job of keeping the knife locked tightly and noiselessly in the sheath. Ka-Bar did a great job on this and it’s equally effective in wet and sandy conditions.

Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).
Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).

The size of the full-size Fighting Knife makes it unwieldy for some basic tasks and its noticeably less portable than its smaller sibling. This is a problem for all fixed-blade knives which is why a variety of knives of different sizes (and not just blade sizes) are on the market to fit any usage scenario and portability requirement. Some trade-offs might have to be made, but the photo above illustrates just how much bigger the 12.8 inch (32.5 cm) knife is compared to the 9.25 inch (23.5 cm) Short Fighting Knife.

Features & Versatility: Both the Short and full-size Fighitng Knife have a hilt that ends in a flat butt-cap which doubles as a hammer when the knife handle is held in a closed fist. This is great for beating tent stakes into the ground or for straightening a bent nail. The grooved, Kraton G polymer grip runs between the guard and the butt and gives the knife excellent handling characteristics in all weather conditions. The Kraton polymers are patented, synthetic materials used in place of rubber because it is longer lasting without sacrificing any of the durability or tactility of a rubber grip.

High quality screwdrivers and wood-working tools have a shank that runs the full length of the handle to provide the best possible rigidity and leverage. Like these tools, the Ka-Bar fighting knives all have true full-length shank running the length of the handle, sometimes called a full tang. This feature allows the knife to be used to pry things open and to withstand tremendous strain without breaking the blade (although it could bend). In the worst-case scenario these knives have even been used to dig foxholes when an entrenching tool was not available.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree "Tanto" style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree “Tanto” style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

Ka-Bar’s Tanto vs. Clip Blade Styles: The shape of a knife’s blade will indicate the purpose it is best suited for. The tanto-style blade is designed for thrusting while the clip-style blade is best-suited for cutting, but can also perform thrusts. The clip-style blade in my opinion is a much more universally practical style and makes using the knife more ergonomically friendly. Ultimately every knife should be easy to use and not cause undue fatigue or stress on the arm or wrist, so I prefer the clip-style.

KA-BAR's tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG's tanto-style Trident (right).
KA-BAR’s tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG’s tanto-style Trident (right).

The tanto-style blade from Ka-Bar is a little different from the one that you’ll find on SOG’s knives that feature a tanto blade. Although they are fundamentally designed for the same purpose the SOG Trident line of knives with a tanto blade comes to a much more dramatic point with the spine sloping down several degrees. This creates a much more aggressive look and may prove more practical for making incisions. The Ka-Bar knives have a straight spine that leads directly to the tip of the blade. Ultimately the angle of the blade’s tip will dictate its usefulness in cutting, and can dramatically impact the ergonomic feel of using the knife. It’s important that buyers try out each knife before hand to find the one that fits their style and grip.

Final thoughts: Overall Ka-Bar’s tried and true entry in the full-size knife category has no faults and makes no apologies for its size as a utility and a very functional knife for virtually any situation. For some it’s definitely the perfect knife, but casual, non-combat users might consider something a little smaller, like the Short Fighting Knife due to its more versatile size and better portability.